NZ evacuates PNG students in Wuhan airlift – about 60 miss flight

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Papua New Guinean students evacuated on the Air New Zealand flight from China. Image: Chris Tarkap

About 60 people failed to board a New Zealand-led evacuation from China yesterday.

Nearly 200 people, mostly New Zealanders, were flown to Auckland airport at about 6pm last night from Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus.

Seventeen Papua New Guinean students were among those evacuated.

READ MORE: Coronavirus updates from RNZ

PNG Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Patrick Pruaitch said from Port Moresby in a statement that 17 Papua New Guinean students out of the 21 initially reported to have been in the Wuhan lockdown had been evacuated with the assistance of the New Zealand government.

All 193 people have arrived safely, the Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has said one passenger was stopped from boarding after failing a health check but that “no registrants were unable to board due to documentation and check-in processes”.

60 not on flight
MFAT said around 60 people registered for the flight did not arrive at the airport and gave no notice. It has been approached for further comment.

St John said the people they did screen managed to all get on board the the flight.

Speaking to reporters at Auckland Airport last night, St John medical director Tony Smith, who was on the flight from Wuhan, said passengers were very stressed out and suffered headaches. Several children were vomiting.

None of the passengers showed any symptoms of the novel coronavirus.

At the airport in Wuhan, several people initially failed temperature screenings because they were wearing six to seven layers of clothing – a measure to counter China’s bitter winter – and had rushed to make the flight, Smith said.

“So we put those people aside, we got the layers off, we waited half an hour, we re-measured the temperatures, and they had all come back down and they were all asymptomatic.

“And those people were very worried that they might not get on the plane.”

Last passenger
The last passenger to board the flight was a British four-year-old who staff held up the departure for, British diplomat Danae Dholakia said on Twitter.

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand. It updates and corrects an earlier RNZ News version of the story.

Pacific Media Watch reports: A breakdown of nationalities on the flight:

  • 54 New Zealand citizens and 44 New Zealand permanent residents on Chinese passports
  • 23 Australian citizens and 12 Australian permanent residents on Chinese passports
  • 17 Timor-Leste
  • 17 Papua New Guinea
  • 8 Britain
  • 5 Samoa
  • 4 Tonga
  • 2 Fiji
  • 1 Kiribati
  • 1 Federated States of Micronesia
  • 1 Uzbekistan
  • 1 Netherlands
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